Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemas papam

Prayer of St. Francis, yahoo image

It’s black!  It’s white! Habemas papam.  We have a pope. I love the drama and the pomp.  And the Latin, which takes me back to Mrs. Bullard's Latin classes at Harley School in Rochester, NY,  a language hardly taught now. How many people have read the Aeniad in Latin?

I like that the new pope was selected on my birthday, that he is a Jesuit from Argentina, and that he calls himself Francesco, Pope Francis. My grandmother is Francesca, and my Dad, Francis Frank, after whom I am named.  I’m Francine but love Francesca, and find when I’m traveling that it is easier for people to say than just plain Fran. But my family naming patterns notwithstanding, I love that the new pope chose the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, a simple and humble friar who loved animals, nature, and all human beings, who embraced the poor and vulnerable, and who prayed for us to love, to understand, to give.

Pope Francis is an international pope, too.  The first non-European pope ever, attesting to the remarkable growth and vitality of the Catholic church in Latin and South America, over 480 million people strong, and also in many countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and around the globe.  A pope of the people, maybe like John XXIII. 

A good choice, it seems.  Timely and thoughtful.  I’m not Catholic but I understand the power of this religion for millions and millions of people.  I love the Catholic cathedrals of the world, their architecture and history, how they were built, how they were used, the good, the bad and the ugly. I have stopped to meditate in many of them, in Krakow, in Budapest, in the Vatican and at Notre Dame,  and most recently in San Miguel de Allende with my grandson Josh.  He followed me into the oldest Church of San Francisco. I told Josh the denomination didn't matter.  Just a place to pause, reflect, think about loved ones. For me, also, these cathedrals, from magnificent to humble, are places to feel connected to something larger than we are, the great transcendent cloud network where all religions merge into one.   .

Although my mother’s dad, my grandfather Loretto Luchetti, studied briefly for the priesthood, according to family lore, he was happy to escape its clutches at the time, in the early 20th century, leaving Rome and his family to come to America, a talented, multi-lingual, musical shoemaker.  My grandmother Julia was related somehow to a family of Waldensians, Italian protestants, and was devout.  My grandfather’s job was to take her to church every Sunday, but as far as I know he never went in with her.  In fact, he’d drop off grandma then  run over to see my mom, his daughter, have a shot of whiskey in his coffee, and play the horses!  He was funny. His green eyes sparkled. We adored him.

The other side of my family is equally religiously infamous, my grandfather Leo Curro from a line of  French Huguenots who fled to Sicily, and my grandmother Francesca Curro a convert here (this is a bit fuzzy).  The Curro's, too, being Protestant, were a minority among Italian immigrants in America.  They held their own, that's for sure. I remember lots of heated discussions, in Italian of course, over great meals, about il papa, and his being just another guy “like you or me.”  Such glorious irreverence, earthy and exuberant. . I remember my dad once  pulling out his Bible (he read every word) to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the pope!  "We don't need a Pope to get close to God," my father, the Baptist deacon and revered Sunday school teacher,  would say.

So I have this fascination with the Catholic church, the Vatican, art, religion and rebellion in general.  I think I'm closer to Judaism than anything else; think I may have been Jewish in another life, maybe in Palestine itself; and admire Jewish traditions and stories. I visit Jewish communities wherever I travel, drawn to their history and struggles. I've given up trying to understand these feelings. It doesn't matter.  They are just there, part DNA, part heritage, part cultural tradition, part subconscious memory.  In my family, religion and rebellion, reverence and irreverence, faith and doubt go hand in hand.

Pope Francis will accept it all.  He will be tolerant.  He will be a busy man, an instrument of peace.  He  has a lot to do, a full agenda, but something tells me he's up to the challenges, both practical and spiritual.  He went to get his own luggage today; took streetcars in Buenos Aires, lives simply.  I think he will want to cut the Vatican down to size, literally and figuratively, so that it is transparent, accessible. He understands the poverty in the world, as well as the glory.  So many of us, no matter our backgrounds or religious beliefs or where we live, will look to his leadership to end poverty and bring social justice on earth. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I think Pope Francis is a dove, a messenger of hope and peace on earth as it is in heaven.   .      
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